Reading Tod Bolsinger's "Canoeing the Mountains", I was arrested by the question: "To what are we called?" Reflecting on that question takes us a long way along the road to discovery of a way forward in being church today.
I know that that might seem like a really obvious and basic question - but I wonder how often we revisit the source and purpose of our calling?
In the midst of huge cultural shifts that take us into sometimes hostile terrain, reflecting on our purpose in our context gives us, not just an inkling of how we might navigate or negotiate a way through, but also the resolve that arises from fully comprehending why we want to do so.
The Falkirk Wheel is an amazing feat of engineering, built to link the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals. It saves boaters having to navigate a series of locks. Indeed, the 19th Century locks, 11 locks, navigating a 35m incline, had been demolished and the land reclaimed and given over to a housing development after years of disuse. When engineers and waterway enthusiasts wanted to link the canals again, in effect linking Glasgow and Edinburgh by canal, their practical solution, based on 21st century engineering, also created a Scottish landmark and tourist attraction. But at the heart of those spin offs is a very practical solution to recovering a navigable waterway, the initial and driving purpose of the endeavour.
In the last few years, the Church of Scotland affirmed its commitment to "Providing the ordinances of religion in every part of Scotland" a tenet that once meant there would be church buildings in communities large and small, the length and breadth of the land. That commitment has often been mistaken as our "raisond'être". And so, our focus, particularly under stress, defaults to the preservation and conservation of buildings, signs of the church's presence in communities, and the maintenance of systems and structures that support that.
But is our purpose to provide the ordinances of religion, or is it to be involved in the Mission of God? These are, of course, not mutually exclusive but what if the mission God calls on us to be engaged in reduces our capacity to fulfil ordinances or maintain buildings? What if, today, amidst the vastly changed landscape in which we find ourselves we have to leave our buildings and "the ordinances of religion" in order to be alongside those with whom God calls us to be?
How do we resource and equip those whose calling is to leave the building alongside those whose faithfulness and gifting is in maintenance? And how do we ensure that, in stress, we do not seek comfort in what we have always done and in what we know?
New structures, imaginative permission giving, prayer and blessing are just a few of the terrains to be negotiated as we work out how to be church today, involved in the Mission of God. Finding our 21st century purpose with the trappings of earlier foci is no easy feat. All the more vital that our purpose is secure and found in the Mission of God in the world where we are called to serve today.